In the old days of the Roman Empire the god Janus was considered the god of “beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings.” He was pictured as having two faces, looking to the future and to the past, and it is usually thought that the month of January is named for him. And we stand in one of those transition places this morning, in the liminal space of the old year ending, and the new year about to begin. Many of us use this time to glance backward over what has been before we turn to face whatever is yet to come – with all our hopes, dreams, and good intentions. And, as Christians, I pray that we do that with an eye to recognizing what God has brought to bear in our lives, the way God has accompanied us thus far, and the places to which God may be pointing us – as individuals and as a church community – in the year ahead.
The reading from John’s Gospel looks both backward and forward. When the Gospel writer, the Evangelist says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God,” he is intentionally echoing the opening words of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”
These are the words John wants us to be hearing while we read his telling of Jesus’ story. He wants us to know that the same God who made the world and called it good, who created humankind and called us good, who hung in with us through all of the ups and downs of human history – all the places we took wrong turns, went off the rails, were faithless to God’s goodness, sinned and fell short of God’s purposes for us, and generally messed up life for ourselves and the world around us – this God has been faithful to his first purposes by coming to us in the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God began humanity again in Jesus – a new creation, a new humanity, the Word made flesh.
By looking at Jesus we see what God is like – God with skin on. And by looking at Jesus, we also see what we humans – men and women – are to be like. Jesus is the very icon, image, example of true humanity; who God intended us to be all along – to be filled with the goodness, faithfulness, and wisdom of God so that we might care for God’s Creation as good and wise stewards, offering praise and thanksgiving along with the rest of the created order.You may well say to yourself that this is just not possible – you are not good enough, faithful enough, brave enough, holy enough, wise enough….whatever “enoughs” you might think of. And you would be right. On our own, none of us can fully live up to God’s expectations, can fully embody God’s purposes. That is why the Gospel writer goes on to say: “the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth…. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
The grace that has come to us in Jesus – the free gift of God’s favor and faithfulness when we least deserved it – it what makes our new humanity, our new creation possible. Grace is not God waving a magic wand and making us perfect people. Grace does not erase that past mistakes, failures and grief. But the gift of grace is that when we give our hearts to God, when we trust in Jesus’ faithfulness and apprentice ourselves to him, when we allow our minds and hearts and wills to be shaped by the Holy Spirit, then bit by bit we will become the Christ-shaped men and women that God intends. Sometimes it happens in great chunks; sometimes our growth is painstakingly slow, with false starts and backward detours. But always, God calls us to begin again, to hope, to live, to love. That is “the work of Christmas” – to quote the theologian Howard Thurman.
In the new year that begins tomorrow I pray that you will know an abundance of God’s grace as you follow Jesus and become even more deeply rooted in power of the Holy Spirit to shape and fuel your life as the new man or woman God created you to be, as the new humanity we are all called to be in Christ.
Let us pray.
Lord, may your Light shine in us and through us into all the darkest places, and may your grace and truth dwell in us richly so that your glory may be revealed through us to your world, your new creation. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
First Sunday after Christmas
December 31, 2017